Churches Provide the Other Kind of Halo

Churches are reaching out to youth in new ways:

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of [Colorado Community Church] said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

Let the jokes begin:

If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Aren’t these church leaders the same people who say teaching about birth control and condoms in the classroom would provide a mixed message during abstinence-only sex education?

Surprisingly, James Dobson‘s Focus on the Family hasn’t made up its mind on the issue yet:

“Internally, we’re still trying to figure out what is our official view on it,” said Lisa Anderson, a spokeswoman for the group.

I wonder why Left Behind: The Game isn’t the video game of choice… but Halo does have religious themes:

Complicating the debate over the appropriateness of the game as a church recruiting tool are the plot’s apocalyptic and religious overtones. The hero’s chief antagonists belong to the Covenant, a fervent religious group that welcomes the destruction of Earth as the path to their ascension.

Joe put it all in perspective:

Imagine the struggle of parents who don’t want their kids to go to Hell, but have trouble telling them not to go a to a church-sponsored event, because that event is an orgy of pixelated bloodshed where the gamers will try their damnedest to stop a bunch of (fictional) end-times fundamentalists from ruining the planet.

Hey, my church offered free alcohol; I grew up Catholic. But then, I was also taught my halo had to be earned.

(Via Epistaxis)

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  • http://hypatian.blogspot.com Graham

    “If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

    Wow. What an asshole. Video games are to be compared to drugs and porn? Idiot.

    Honestly, I don’t see much wrong with this. I mean, it sucks that Churches are taking some steps that might actually WORK, but I don’t think that using a video-game to recruit is any worse than standing on a street corner, or hosting bingo games, or whatever those irrelevant old shut-ins used to think would attract young people.

  • Darryl

    Ease up there, Graham, the statement you quoted can also be interpreted as a reductio ad absurdum argument meaning that if you are willing to use any means that are attractive to teenage boys, then there are better ones available. This interpretation shifts the focus to where it ought to be (if you’re into moralizing about this kind of stuff), which is whether games that many Christian culture-watchers have claimed induce violence into children ought to be tolerated so that a higher purpose may be achieved–the old “do the ends justify the means?” thing.

    The hero’s chief antagonists belong to the Covenant, a fervent religious group that welcomes the destruction of Earth as the path to their ascension.

    I’m no gamer, so I didn’t know this about Halo. Is it me, or does anybody else think that the “Covenant” sounds like those fundamentalists that are trying to gin up Armageddon by pushing Israel to nuke Iran?

  • Mriana

    *Mriana shakes head* If it’s not their virtual training ground (Left Behind) then it’s some other video game with a religious name and possible religious themes that’s just as violent.

    “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

    ROFLMBO! Only if you go to the garbage dump! No seriously. It came from the constantly burning garbage dump. Then there is the grave- Sheol. We all go to either place eventually. Can’t stop fate. I guess these people don’t know their Bible very well. Damn! Episcopalians know where the idea of hell came from, but than again, from an Episcopal podcast I was listening too, they also said Bible study with an Episcopalian priest never goes well with those who believe the Bible. Even they said the idea came from a garbage dump. :lol:

  • http://meritboundalley.wordpress.com Joe M

    Listen, there’s no way that even 1% of those kids are going there to hear the “Word of God”. They are there to play the worlds most popular video game on big screen TVs with their friends for free. If it was World of Warcraft, I’d be warming a seat right next to them.

    What these youth pastors should be doing is, instead of spending monetary resources on gaming rigs, spending mental resources on why their message isn’t worthy on it’s own merit. These kids probably won’t remember word one of what these youth pastors say, but will tell the story of their long-distance headshot for weeks.

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    As a Christian, I’ve always found this somewhat perplexing. I have hosted a number of video game parties for teens which have been used for evangelistic purposes. (We don’t hide the fact its an evangelistic event.) And games such as Halo, Goldeneye (yeah, we keep it old skool) and others as part of the line-up. While people came to Jesus through the events (despite their original reasons for showing up), using games that just continue the trend of violence (that condones or glorifies it) has always confused me. Christians on the campus of my Christian college host LAN parties and enjoy setting up their own levels in order to be able to kill their friends over and over and over again. None of them would argue that its okay to do this in real life, but it does make it easier to support such things like blindly going into Iraq to kill people who might as well be members of the Covenant and to be unmoved when we see the tragedies taking place in Uganda and the Sudan. This is not saying people at my school are uncaring by any means. They care deeply about each other and the world’s problems. But, I wonder if some of the things we expose ourselves to or use as evangelistic tools might be detrimental–and even antithetical–to the message we carry.

  • Mriana

    I think it is detrimental and does carry the opposite message. IF God is love, why have virtual training games such as “Left Behind”? (I don’t know much about Halo, but the violence in that probably doesn’t help either) The military uses similar video games to train soldiers for combat situations. Left Behind has Christians killing infidels in a military-like situation with the major theme being war. Humm… Sounds like a horrible message to give impressionable kids as well as a mixed message. Does God only love those who believe in Him and serve Him? Is He really the one and only God? If so, does that mean the Crusade with Islamic continues? Jesus supposedly ate with sinners and healed the untouchably sick people, even on the Sabbath, yet kids learn from video games that it is ok to kill others, esp if they are infidels and those of other religions. Somehow that doesn’t make sense IF God is love.

    But then he killed many people via a flood, sent bears to kill children who made fun of Elijah’s bald head, and skipping over a million other things… He killed his only son. Ah, but we won’t argue the reasonings behind it all, because it’s the violence that kids go for in the video games, isn’t it?

    Now if I could do a major overhaul of the message, the games would be the first thing to go, including and esp that virtual training game. That’s just constructive criticism and a suggestion, for what it’s worth, and not meant to be an insult. I hope it gives people, esp ministers and Christians parents, something to think about too.

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    Weird thing is, are games really teaching people that killing is okay or does it desensitize them to it? I don’t know many people I would ask, “Hey, is it alright to kill and murder people?” who would give me an affirmative. The answer, of course, changes in a war-time situation where the matters and aggressor-agressee is not so easy to make out.

    And to Mriana, its another dichotomy entirely when I think about the violence in video games and then the Bible I hand people telling them all the people God killed in the OT (and the few in the NT), but telling them to focus on the “turn the other cheek” part of the NT.

    Sometimes, I HATE the tightrope.

  • Mriana

    That’s what I’m saying though. My older son just told me a little about Halo and I don’t see it being that much different than Left Behind. The point is both games give the idea that in a religious war it’s OK to kill those not like you, yet a lot of us are screaming for the Shrub to take our men out of Iraq. Then you have the crazy Religious Reich wanting this war in order to “make Jesus return”. I didn’t know you could “make God” do anything. :roll:

    OK let’s just say for a moment that all hell breaks out in the Middle East and the Religious Reich goes even MORE batty with ideas of “The Rapture”. Do you really think these kids who play these games are going to be able to tell the difference? Don’t you think it’s possible we could end up with young suicide bombers like they have in the Middle East here too? They are being well trained if you think about it and how the military trains soldiers.

    Now for the NT, yes it does say to turn the other cheek, but if you go to Revelations and interpret it like a lot of Evangelical Fundamentist do and/or religious extremists you have the opposite message. Oh yes, if you aren’t a literalist you get a different story out of it, but if one is a literalist and an extremist who takes the idea of “the Rapture” seriously, it’s a hot bed of insanity that ties in very well with the two afore mentioned video games.

  • GuyIncognito

    That reminds me of this LOL — Jesus has Halo

  • AtomicWarBaby

    The “Left Behind” scenario should be familiar: it is the same scenario which a certain former Catholic Altar Boy used to gain power in Germany in the 30′s: his name was Adolf Hitler, & his idea of a “1,000 Year Reich” with a “Pure Aryan Blood” nation, purified by killing all the “others” — Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsies, the Handicapped, etc. — plus any Christians or Germans of OTHER faiths or NO religious faith, who opposed him & his Nazi stormtroopers, gestapo, & especially his HITLER YOUTH movement, well, the Police Wagons came to the Niteclubs where Germany “Swing” kids were dancing to “decadent, evil” Western music — & beat them up, rounded them up, etc.

    Anyone who thinks that the right-wing Christian fundamentalists playing the “Left Behind” video game, those fantasizing about or actually thinking “The Rapture” would be a good idea, are “just playing”?

    Well, that’s what they thought in Nazi Germany. Until it was too late to stop the Madness of WW II.

  • Mriana

    Atomicwarbaby, I don’t think they are just playing when it comes to that virtual training game. I know what the Religious Reich are doing with that game and it’s not play. Why do you think I call it a virtual training ground?